Freedom of speech has clearly been a defining issue on campus this year. I think for many years we have all been complicit in creating a campus culture that discourages open discourse. Specifically, students have felt uncomfortable sharing dissenting views around issues of race and class. This has caused a very one-sided discussion. At all of the multicultural discussions I have attended on campus, socially liberal students have dominated the discussion. However, there are clearly other voices on campus, which are not present at these discussions. I am the first to admit that Bowdoin is a vocally liberal campus, one which is often unfairly suppressive of conservative voices. I hope that in the future liberal students like myself can work on creating spaces that are more inclusive to differing opinions. However, I would also say that the concern that other students will disagree with you is not an excuse to completely remove yourself from the campus dialogue.

I recognize that it is difficult to open yourself up to a conversation in which you are the minority and most people will disagree with you. As a privileged straight white male I felt uncomfortable attending conversations in which I would have to question my own privilege, so I completely understand the hesitation. However, I think that this fear of disagreement has caused students to only engage in discussions with like-minded individuals. It is my opinion that liberal students on campus tend to meet together and support each other’s liberalism and conservative students tend to meet with other conservative students and support each other’s conservatism. I completely admit that I am guilty of this, but I would still implore all of us to push ourselves to go out of our comfort zone. If you feel like you tend to only engage with white students, go to a dinner at Russworm. If you feel that you tend to only engage with liberal students take a class with Professor Yarbrough.

With all this said, I think it is important to remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. Ideally, we would all be able to speak our minds freely without fear of administrative punishment, but that does not mean that our peers may not criticize us. Moreover, criticism can be a good thing. I would hope that disagreement happens respectfully, but criticism is a crucial part of free speech. As Justice Holmes famously wrote in his dissent in Abrams v. United States, “persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical.” Our community is improved by a “free trade in ideas.” For example, I think it is great that Jesse Ortiz published a controversial article about athletics and Bowdoin and I think it’s fantastic that Seamus Powers wrote such a measured, well thought-out response. This discourse represents Bowdoin students at our best. It is not a problem when members of our community speak out in opposition to one another; it is a problem when members of our community turn their backs to the views and needs of other students.

Lastly, I want to clarify that the Articles of Impeachment submitted against two members of the BSG were not, in my opinion, an attempt to suppress free expression. The two members of the BSG in question voted in favor of and expressed no opposition to a statement that defined “cultural appropriation” as “a power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systemically oppressed by that dominant group, perpetuate racist stereotypes, and/or misrepresent people’s culture,” and which states that “such behavior will not and should not be tolerated.” I feel as though the “tequila” party and the conduct that occurred there fell within this definition and therefore it would be hypocritical not to do something about it. Conduct and speech are not interchangeable concepts and members of the BSG general assembly engaged in conduct that they had voted to condemn. As elected representatives, we have a duty to follow the standards we attempt to set for campus. I do not believe that the individuals involved are bad people, nor do I believe either of them are racists. Many people, including myself and the Bowdoin college administration for that matter, have supported things that look much like cultural appropriation. However, on October 28 we voted not to tolerate these acts and it would be hypocritical not to hold our own members to the same standards we hold the rest of campus to.

This does not mean the debate is over. There is room at Bowdoin to argue that the “tequila party” was acceptable. I standby what I did and I welcome the heavy criticism I have received. Recently a student said over Yik Yak that they would transfer if I was elected to BSG. This is a valid comment and it is important to have voters hear how strongly some students feel about opposing my candidacy. Additionally, it is fine if you feel that the impeachment was an attempt to censor free expression. I disagree, but, as I have said, disagreement is OK.

There is no question that this has been a difficult year for campus. Many students of color I have spoken to plan to transfer or wish that they could due to racially hurtful incidents, and other students have felt antagonized by “PC culture.” As I have been reflecting on this year, all I can say is that a lot of really important issues have been raised and I believe the only way we can address these issues as a campus is both to freely talk and disagree with one another and to actively listen to all members of our community.

Jacob Russell is a member of the Class of 2017 and the Interhouse Council Representative to the Bowdoin Student Government.